The theme of our conference today has been “Fearless 365.” It’s been pointed out that the words “do not be afraid” appear in the Bible 365 times. That’s an interesting coincidence since there are 365 days in the year. But what does it mean to be “fearless?” To know the answer, to be “fearless,” you have to know what “fear” is.
Fear is a human feeling, a human emotion --- like happiness or joy, sadness or sorrow, anger or frustration, calm or peacefulness --- that occurs in response to something either outside of yourself or inside. That “something” can be real or imagined. It can be reasonable or fantasy. At some point in life everyone experiences “fear:” fear of the unknown, fear of the dark, for example. Fear of failure, fear of the future, fear of relationships or loneliness. These are all common fears but they can become exaggerated in importance because of our imagination. It’s normal to have some fears but it is important for us not to allow our fears to take hold of us, to cripple us, to control and keep us from living our lives. We need to develop ways to handle our fears, to respond positively, to move forward and not give up.
Let me share an experience of my own. Christmas Eve three years ago, I went to the hospital with a wound in my foot that just wouldn’t heal. It was making me feel sick all over. After some tests, doctors told me that my foot and leg bone were badly infected and the infection entered my bloodstream and was killing me. I was in danger of dying if they did not amputate my leg.
That was terrible news. A million thoughts ran through my head as the doctors spoke. But there was one feeling that I didn’t have, hard as it is to believe: fear … I was not afraid. After everyone left my room and I was alone, I thought about my faith in God and the words of Scripture that I preached about in so many homilies; I thought about all the times as a priest I talked to people and advised them as they faced the most difficult things in life you can imagine: kids who felt unloved or were abused; teenagers on drugs or thinking about suicide because of bullying; students who were failing in school; unwed mothers considering abortion; married couples wanting to divorce; old people who were all alone; people like myself who were sick or dying. I had the same message for them all: have faith in God, you are not alone; do not be afraid.
Now, that message was for me.
How many times did Jesus say that to all the people who came to him, who touched him, who were in need of healing and help and mercy? “Take courage.” “Have faith in God and in me.” “Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”
As I lay in that hospital bed in that empty room all alone on Christmas Eve, a feeling of peace came over me, peace --- not denial, not fear, but the peace that only comes when you have faith and trust in God and in his love and presence always, at every moment and in every experience in our lives. I reached for my rosary and started to pray and drifted off to sleep, knowing I might not wake up. But I did wake up with my rosary still in my hand. My faith calmed my fears.
My young sisters and brothers, I cannot tell you not to have fears. There are challenges and difficulties in everyone’s life … and in yours too. To be “fearless” does not mean not to have fears: it means not to let fears overcome you. How?
Believe that God created you and loves you, no matter what; God loves you just as you are, even with the struggles you face;
No one is perfect. Human beings make mistakes and fail but no failure of ours is bigger than God’s mercy and forgiveness; as teenagers, your lives are filled with all kinds of feelings and experiences as you move through adolescence: confusion, instability, temptation, shame and, yes, fear.
Develop trust and faith in God and his presence; pray to him in good times and bad, even when you feel afraid; put your faith in the right place: in God! Faith in God is the greatest weapon against fear.
Be prepared for challenges, expect them. Life is not always easy. Peers can be bullies: don’t give in and don’t you bully. Find good friends. Drugs are the easy way out but they lead to an exit rather than a pathway to good. No problem is so big that ending your life is the answer. Talk your issues through with an experienced adult: a parent, a teacher, a coach, a priest.
Approach life with gratitude. God has given you so many gifts, so many different gifts. Don’t compare yourself to others. Add your gifts to theirs and use them … together.
Jesus told us we have no reason whatsoever to fear, whatever happens. God made the world and us within it. God is in control and he will take care of us. Don’t forget to remember that, every day when you wake up, when you go to sleep and all the hours in between. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Fears will come. And when they do, don’t give in, don’t give up. Be “Fearless 365” … with the Lord.